Masut Vineyard and Winery

Masut Vineyard and Winery: A Legacy Grows
Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson


Continuing their Mendocino family’s winemaking tradition is so important to Jacob and Benjamin Fetzer they added the words “third generation” to their Masut wine label and their business cards.
Their grandfather Barney Fetzer was one of Mendocino County’s trailblazing vintners and the two brothers grew up on the Fetzer family’s Redwood Valley “home” ranch. Now Jake, 29, and Ben, 30, make wine from the grapes they helped their late dad Bobby Fetzer plant when they were in high school.
“It was natural for dad to buy this piece of property,” says Ben. The 1500-acre ranch butts up to the home ranch. Growing up Bobby Fetzer and some of his ten siblings “trespassed to go hiking” on the steep canyons of this neighboring property.
Bobby and Sheila Fetzer purchased the ranch in 1992 after the Fetzer family sold their Hopland based winery (which the siblings had grown to the one of the biggest brands in the country). Bobby and Sheila named the ranch Masut, a Pomo word for “dark, rich earth” and for a Pomo settlement in the area.
Their dad’s love of farming and taking old ranches and cleaning them up was passed on to Jake and Ben. The beautiful barn that the brothers have partitioned for the winery office just off of Highway 101 was built of recycled redwood. As was a five thousand square foot barn with a dirt floor on the property that sits on a knoll with a 360 degree view. It was used for storage but it had plumbing, electricity and potential. “Dad always had a stack of used wood around waiting for a project,” says Jake.
Bobby and Sheila planted a vineyard with Pinot Noir, “dad’s favorite wine”. The grapes grow in 13 separate blocks and the brothers make wine from each and keep it separate until the final blending. Bobby’s brother Jimmy Fetzer made Masut Pinot Noir in the early 2000s to showcase what the fruit could do and it received high quality reviews. “The vines are low producing with intense flavors,” says Jake.
In the meantime Ben and Jake went off to college. Jake studied business at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Ben went to Lewis & Clark in Oregon and to Chico. He started out in Hispanic studies and spent a year in Chile. He finished at Chico State University in agricultural business. The brothers always knew they would come back to the ranch because both love being “hands-on.”
“When our parents bought a 6000-acre ranch in Covelo where we raise organic cattle and hay I stayed here to farm the vineyard,” says Jake. Ben moved to Covelo to help with the cattle. “Dad came a couple of times a week to tell me what I was doing wrong,” smiles Jake.
Everything is organic, a tradition the Fetzer brothers continue from their family legacy. Fetzer Vineyards was a leader in organic and sustainable farming and business practices. Uncle Jimmy’s McNab Ranch vineyard became Fetzer’s organic wine brand Bonterra. “It takes a lot of time and paperwork but it’s worth it,” says Jake.
“When dad passed away in 2006 Ben and I stepped back,” says Jake. They had plenty to keep them busy with the cattle ranch raising organic beef in Round Valley and the vineyard in Redwood Valley. The brothers go back and forth working on the ranches. Jake helps out with the hay and cattle. Ben puts in time in the vineyard. “Ben is more patient and a quiet thinker,” says Jake. “I’m more let’s go and get this done. We are a good complement to each other.”
A couple of years ago Ben and Jake looked at the big unfinished barn on the hill and decided it was time to pour a concrete floor and make some home brew. “It didn’t take long before the project blossomed into wine,” says Jake.
Tenaciously they finished the inside of the barn into a gleaming state of the art winery encased in its rustic redwood siding with a green metal roof you can see from Highway 101. It is seriously insulated and furnished with gleaming stainless steel tanks and oak barrels.
“We make our Pinot in the Burgundian style,” says Jake. They finish fermentation inside the barrel, which Jake says “takes the edge off of new oak barrels.” The wine is left “sur lie” (which means in contact with the spent yeast) until April. “Sur lie creates more complexity and depth and acts as an anti-oxidant,” he adds.
They do the final blend in July and bottle it in August. November is time for release and Masut released their 2009 Pinot Noir in time for Thanksgiving. It’s 100 percent Pinot Noir and a “true experience of the vineyard.” Jakes confirms that the 2010 vintage looks good. “The long growing season made for nicely developed flavor.”
Esteemed winemaker Greg LaFollette is their friend and mentor. “I know I’m kind of a young guy still so it’s a privilege to have Greg consulting and tasting our wine. That is where experience really helps,” says Jake adding, “Our goal is not a big brash Pinot Noir, which is easy to do but also easy to ruin. Greg is teaching me patience.”
One of the draws to winemaking (and farming) for Ben is how every stage is different. “We do hands on farming, beef growing, winemaking and marketing,” he says. “It’s new everyday and not only continues to be interesting but there is always something to learn.”
“This is a lot more than ranching now that we are making wine,” says Ben adding, “we also build fences, fix drip irrigation systems and deal with wine distributors.” Ben and Jake just returned from their first weeklong selling trip on the east coast. “It was fun to get off the ranch,” says Ben who reports positive feedback and selling a lot of wine in Washington, DC, New York and Maryland.
In addition to everything else, Jake explains that they are also moving through the regulatory process to create a new American Viticultural Appellation (AVA), which designates a significant viticultural area. The proposed new Eagle Peak AVA will be defined by the mountainous canyon, steep sloping peaks, dark soil, westerly winds coming over from the coast. It will encompass about 100 acres of vines including five other nearby vineyards including the Fetzer family home ranch.
“What we are doing is learning on the job with a lot of support from friends and family,” say the brothers. Their mom Sheila is very supportive and the “director of hospitality” for the winery. “Mom came and played music before the crush,” says Jake, who is engaged to Gina Caito. She comes from the Caito fisheries family in Fort Bragg and Gina’s mom Elaine was raised in Ukiah and went to school with Jake’s dad Bobby. Gina works full time at La Tre, the clothing and accessories shops in Ukiah and Fort Bragg she, her sister and her mom started four years ago. They’ve been together for six years and she helps out with bottling and wherever she can on the ranch.
“We plan to take it slow and have our handprints on every bottle,” says Jake adding, “when you like to do things yourself it’s easier to control quality. On the Masut 2009 inaugural label Jake and Ben dedicate this and their future wine to their dad
“Our dad and our mom taught us how to live and work on a ranch,” says Jake. Ben and Jake agree that the biggest thing about their lives is their family heritage. “It’s why we are here.”

Tasting Notes: If Jake and Ben Fetzer’s first official wine for release is a preview of coming attractions, wow. The Masut 2009 Pinot Noir has luscious fruity aromas and the most luxurious mouthfeel that makes it slide right down next to spicy flavors of char-grilled peppered steak. Jake and Gine also love it with fish tacos and butternut squash tamales..

For more information on Masut Pinot Noir or to order organic beef visit the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.mendowine.com or www.masut.com.
 

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